President Biden signs bill making Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, a national holiday

Jun 17, 2021

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President Joe Biden signed a new law Thursday afternoon June 17 recently passed by Congress to make Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of U.S. slavery, a federal holiday.

The legislation, officially named The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, was approved by the House of Representatives Wednesday in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, with just 14 nay votes by Republicans. The Senate passed it unanimously a day earlier.

President Biden commenting on the bipartisan nature of the bill said, “I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another.”

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The new law mandates that every federal employee gets a day off on June 19. That date is a significant day in American history because June 19, 1865, is when the last enslaved people in the confederate U.S. states learned from Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. This came 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

[Note: The remaining enslaved people in two Union border states, Delaware and Kentucky, would not be emancipated until December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was announced.]

Related: How to celebrate Juneteenth in 2021

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest celebration of African American freedom, and one that is already officially recognized by almost every state in the union. It is a state or ceremonial holiday in 47 states as well as Washington, D.C.

New York and Illinois made it official this year, declaring June 19 a state and school holiday. In years when the date falls on a weekend, it will be observed the following Monday. In recent years, a growing number of corporations have begun to observe Juneteenth with paid days off for employees. They include tech giant Google, carmakers such as GM and Ford, and retailers Best Buy and J.C. Penney.

Featured image of a Juneteenth Celebration parade in Denver by Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty Images.

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